Madam Speaker, I would like to begin today by quoting Solomon Friedman, a defence attorney who appeared before the committee.
I think that this quote clearly states what we think of this bill.
I should first note that Bill C-93 is better than nothing. But better than nothing is a mighty low bar for our Parliament. You can do better. You must do better. Instead, I would urge a scheme of expungement along the lines already provided for in the Expungement of Historically Unjust Convictions Act.
I would add here that that was a bill presented by the government. He went on to say that the record of these convictions for the simple possession of cannabis “should be expunged permanently and automatically”.
I also want to read a quote from Elana Finestone, from the Native Women's Association of Canada:
Unfortunately, the effects of the bill will go unrealized for many indigenous women with criminal records for simple possession of cannabis. Simply put, the bill remains inaccessible for indigenous women who are poor and have administration of justice issues associated with their simple possession of cannabis conviction.
I must repeat what I said in my questions earlier. I have never seen such a sorry, pathetic attempt. I have all the respect in the world for our public servants, and they told the committee that it was too much work for them. They said that there were no systems in place that would allow them to expunge criminal records for simple possession, as parliamentarians wanted. This is unacceptable, and this is a far cry from the Liberals' claims of “better is always possible”. As members can see in the quotes I read out, that certainly does not apply to this bill.
Furthermore, when the minister appeared in committee, he was unable to answer my very simple questions. The Prime Minister, the parliamentary secretary who just spoke, the Minister of Public Safety and the associate minister in charge of border security have all acknowledged, on different occasions, the impact that pre-legalization laws had on indigenous peoples, racialized persons, the poor and all marginalized Canadians. They all acknowledged this.
What the Liberals did with Bill C-66, which provided for the expungement of the criminal records of LGBTQ people, was a good, commendable thing. It was what a fair and just society should do. The Liberals expunged those criminal records.
Why did they not do the same thing in this case? I asked the minister that question. Unbelievably, he responded that Bill C-66 had to do with violating rights that were protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Excuse me, but that is quite an arbitrary criterion. I asked all of the witnesses who appeared in committee whether the law included the concept of injustice specifically with respect to a violation of our rights protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They all told me that it did not.
Not only did they say no, but Kent Roach specifically recognized that the minister's standard for defining historical injustice is nothing but a fabrication of the government, an arbitrary measuring stick that it put in place with Bill C-66, and now suddenly it does not want to follow through with Bill C-93 for these marginalized Canadians who, in a different way, have been victims of their own historical injustice.
I could not put it better than Cannabis Amnesty put it at committee when it quoted a Supreme Court decision that recognized that a law can be found to have been discriminatory even if the law itself is not discriminatory, but its application has been discriminatory. It is hard to find better examples in the history of our country than the war on drugs and the criminalization of simple possession of cannabis.
The minister, being unable to respond to those questions, led a parade of witnesses at committee who all agreed with the sentiment expressed in the quotes I shared with the House, that this bill is nothing more than an 11th hour attempt to check off a box and really does very little.
Putting the onus on marginalized Canadians is never going to lead to the kind of justice this bill purports to want to attain. Why? We just need to look at Bill C-66 and the expungement of the criminal records of LGBTQ Canadians. Seven out of the 9,000 some-odd Canadians who could have applied have applied. There are seven out of 9,000, and change. What would be different this time? We asked the officials and they were unable to provide us with an answer, except to say they are going to come up with creative ad campaigns using social media and things like that. It is unbelievable to think that we are going to reach the most marginalized in our society by coming up with fancy hashtags and buzzwords on social media. It is simply mind-boggling.
My speaking time at report stage is limited. I have just 10 minutes, but I want to talk about the amendments that were adopted.
First, there is the amendment proposed by the Green Party. To be clear, this amendment was proposed by the Green Party and then amended by the Liberals. At first glance, it seems well intentioned. It ensures that record suspensions remain in effect regardless of the good behaviour criteria that usually applies. That is something we support in principle. We support it because a record suspension can be revoked under these criteria, for a speeding ticket for instance. We can all agree that this type of assessment is profoundly unjust.
However, the Green Party's amendment amended by the Liberals omits a very important aspect. This is not just about good behaviour. Under this amendment, a Canadian whose criminal record is suspended under the terms of Bill C-93 and who commits a crime thereafter will have their criminal record suspension annulled and will continue to carry the burden of their criminal record for simple possession of cannabis. They will then be unable to make an application under the terms of Bill C-93.
This means that marginalized Canadians, who belong to the various groups that were just mentioned, could presumably benefit from the process set out in Bill C-93, but not if they commit a crime thereafter. Clearly, we are not pardoning the crime that has been committed, whether it is proven in court or not. However, we know that all sorts of factors could come into play, such as mental health, housing and the discrimination that exists in our legal system and our criminal justice system. This means that, whenever another crime is committed, the activity previously engaged in that is now considered legal remains illegal. That is utterly absurd and illogical. I have a very hard time understanding how a government that says it wants to help these people can go in that direction.
I could not believe what the member for Toronto—Danforth said at committee. I felt like I was in the last Parliament, with Vic Toews as Minister of Public Safety. At committee, I said that Canadians who obtain a record suspension for simple possession of cannabis should be allowed to keep that record suspension even if they have committed other crimes, because simple possession of cannabis is now legal. To paraphrase her quite accurately, she said that the NDP was trying to make it easier for murderers to obtain record suspensions. I invite Canadians to look at the transcript.
That is the kind of rhetoric that led to a change in government in 2015. We have a member of Parliament from downtown Toronto employing the same rhetoric as Stephen Harper's Conservatives in the previous Parliament. That is unreal. All we are trying to do is to ensure that the most marginalized Canadians with criminal records for simple possession of cannabis do not continue to be criminalized because they get caught up in the continuing discrimination they have to live with from our criminal justice system.
I want to raise one last point because I have only a minute left. I want to talk about the administration of justice.
Representatives of various indigenous organizations talked to us about indigenous individuals who had a criminal record for simple possession of cannabis and who did not show up in court because the court was too far from where they live or because of any number of other factors one can think of that would interfere with getting to court. The representatives told us that these people, who get a record suspension—even though the NDP would have preferred an automatic expungement—these people cannot get a record suspension, much less an expungement, because they did not appear in court on charges of simple possession of cannabis, which is no longer a crime.
In conclusion, this government said it wanted to make things better, but it is a long way from delivering justice to the most marginalized members of our society.